August 26, 2014 6:11 pm

Bright stairwells made for walking? Peel hopes so

Watch above:  Jennifer Palisoc reports on the unique way some businesses are getting workers to walk up the stairs. 

TORONTO – Peel Region Public Health is redecorating, hoping to get employees out of their desks and up (and down) the stairs.

The health agency is painting the stairwells of its building bright, inviting colours, installed hand rail grips and grip strips on the steps, painted the doors and put directional sign pointing people to the stairwell.

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“It’s as if you have a gym at work,” Gayle Bursey, the region’s director of chronic disease and injury prevention said in an interview. “You automatically go up two or three flights and it doesn’t seem you have to flog yourself to go up to the gym, you just do it every day.”

The benefits are obvious: people who exercise more are generally healthier. Even small bursts or less intense exercise can have a positive effect on a person, Bursey said.

But physical activity is slowly being removed from everyday life: Why walk or bike to work or to run errands when it’s faster to drive everywhere? Why take the stairs up from the subway when there’s an escalator?

“We see that those small changes in physical activity that we’ve had engineered out of our lives have actually added up to a lot more risk of disease through inactivity,” Bursey said.

And sitting at a desk makes it even worse.

“There’s a glob of information that sitting is killing us,” Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic told the Associated Press in September, 2013. “You’re basically sitting yourself into a coffin.”

Approximately 12,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area each year, he said.

A May study of physical activity habits among youth around the world found Canadians compare poorly to their international counterparts. Spending too much time in front of a screen and no longer walking to school were two factors weighing down Canada’s grade.

“None of us get enough physical activity,” Bursey said. “Within the Peel community we’re going from a one in ten people with diabetes to about one in six in just a little over ten years. That’s a big concern for us as public health professionals.”

The staircase idea isn’t new to Peel: They borrowed it from New York City, where the mayor called on the city and business owners to encourage people to take the stairs. In July, 2013 Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on city council to require buildings provide visible access to stairwells and post signs encouraging their use.

The National Cancer Institute in Maryland is also turning its staircases into vertical fitness centers. The walls of the stairwell’s are covered with bright graphics and each landing is adorned with quotes from American cultural giants including Mark Twain and John F. Kennedy, Jean-Patrice Khosbin, the acting director of planning and space management at the NCI, said in an interview.

“We’ve got very good comments. People are happier to walk in a space that is not beige, and drab, and, you know, dark.”

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